[Sca-cooks] garnishes

Phil Troy / G. Tacitus Adamantius adamantius1 at verizon.net
Sun Jul 15 07:20:04 PDT 2007

On Jul 15, 2007, at 3:02 AM, Stefan li Rous wrote:

> I seem to remember that at least one recipe for "snow" talks of
> garnishing it with sprigs of rosemary. Adamantius, would you still
> consider that to violate your "garnishes that are not
> an inherent part of the dish. My feeling is that the food itself
> should look good,"

Please note that I'm making no claims that such garnishes aren't  
historical practice at any time. I just don't like little fake  
flowers, birds, fish and animals getting in the way of my eye or any  
eating utensils when dealing with a plate of food; it's a personal  
preference. I don't like "cute" food. I don't know if I was  
traumatized by a radish rose when I was a baby, or if it's a natural  
extension of the K.I.S.S. rule ("Keep it simple, stupid!") that they  
pound into your head in culinary schools, or if I had particularly  
influential instructors, co-workers, or employers who felt that way.  
My goal is food that causes people to say, "That looks awesome!", and  
if they say instead, "Oh, how cuuuute!" I'd be inclined to go off and  
quietly sever major arteries in a hot tub.

Regarding the sprig of rosemary in snow, my feeling is that it  
perfumes the dish, is simple, easily moved or removed as the snow is  
eaten, and relatively harmless compared to some things.

> What about gilding food? Is that a garnish or not? It is a surface
> treatment and not actually part of the food, but it isn't just laid
> alongside of or on top of the food, either.

And it's made at least in large part of food ingredients, and you  
don't remove it to eat the food. I'd say you could make a case for  
"inherent part of the dish", albeit primarily for purposes of  
appearance. It also sometimes seals in juices in meats and seals  
cracks and flaws in things like pies.

> Or a pretty pile of fruit or whatever next to a food item. Is that a
> garnish or part of the dish?

I'd say that's a garnish, generally, but not the sort of thing I'd  
have issues with. I suspect most people would draw the line by asking  
themselves if the underlying food becomes something... uhhm, not what  
it would otherwise be... if you remove it. Is a suckling pig less of  
a suckling pig if you remove the apple from its mouth? Of course not.  
Does a pizza margharita become something else if you remove or omit  
the cheese? Yes, it does.

Someone like Escoffier would say that anything in the dish either  
added for visual effect or processed even partially for visual effect  
(for example, cutting your stew vegetables into perfect 1/2-inch dice  
instead of just hacking them up into random giant chunks) is a  
garnish. There are also other uses for the term, such as in a bouquet  
garni, which is a bundle of herbs removed from the dish before  
serving, or as in Alsatian choucroute garni, which is a platter of  
sauerkraut surrounded by an assortment of cured and/or smoked meats  
and sausages.

I used to work with a chef who was in most respects an utter looney,  
but who had a particular talent for beautiful braised meats, things  
like short ribs and lamb shanks. She'd cook them with vegetables left  
whole, then remove and chill them when done, strain the sauce, and  
cut the vegetables attractively to use as part of the garnish of the  
finished dish, reheated for service. This way the vegetables didn't  
overcook and fall apart, but they still were part of the "flavor  
exchange" [I may have just invented a necessary culinary term]  
between the meat, the sauce, and the vegetables.

In classical French cookery you also have what are codified in more  
or less "official presentations" known and distinguished by name. If  
you're about to be served something (say, chicken) Bonne Femme,  
people who deal with this type of food regularly would know to look  
for a garnish of cooked onions [generally pearl], chopped mushrooms  
and bacon. Andalusienne, tomatoes and sweet peppers. Saint-Germaine,  
green peas, etc. Eventually the system includes what you or I might  
even call traditional side dishes or accompaniments, as garnishes.

> Or parsley, although there are people
> that eat the parsley.

Yep. I often do. I also like it in salads (dill, too), but for  
putting it on plates, I'd rather do a chiffonade (think ultra-fine  
julienne strips) of flat parsley and sprinkle it directly on the food  
(at which point it becomes an inherent part <g> of the dish), than  
put a silly sprig of curly parsley on the side of the plate.


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